Traveling and vacation are similar in theory but very different words in practice. One might think that if you don’t know the language well enough, you should just stick to your mother tongue until you’ve ‘studied enough’ to come back. Or even the converse; that you can’t go to Japan until you’ve mastered conversation and can read a Japanese dictionary cover-to-cover.
If I were to summarize the rest of this post’s advice in one sentence:
Become a baby
Because you are like a baby to most Japanese people. They expect you to know little to nothing about their culture, even if you’ve made the journey to their country (very different from my country’s view on foreigners by the way!).
However, I’m not saying that you should pull the ‘Gaijiin card’ (when a foreigner takes advantage of their foreign status powers for evil). I’m saying that in order to learn and grow in any language, you must make mistakes. The moment that a person stops caring about perfection while speaking has marked their path for fluency; because fluency comes with time, correction, listening, and exposure.
Keeping this in mind, here is how to hyper-practice Japanese while on your vacation!
1. Make Japanese friends even before you go!
This is almost a no-brainer. Being surrounded by friendly people whom you’re even more comfortable freely speaking and being corrected by will fast-track your comprehension and tongue dexterity.
Some of the tools I used to find a lot of people to practice with – now many of them are just my friends! – are applications you can download for free! Some noteworthy ones are:
- Hello Talk – Find conversation partners. A great way to keep focused conversations in different languages. I would encourage breaking out of the app ecosystem and add each other on other social networks once you’ve made friends!
- Line – A widely popular mobile social network used by many Japanese
I also have a dictionary app on my phone which is IMMENSELY helpful for that conversation that randomly stops because you forgot the word for aardvark. One app I use and like is JED.
For corrections on my writing skills, I use Lang-8. They don’t have a mobile application yet, but it’s an excellent website with tons of Japanese people using it!
Plan meetups for your vacation! Best decision I made, and it’s what I recommend doing. They know their country and having a native speaker is immensely helpful in terms of recommendations, transportation, and just making new friends!
2. Experience everything you can using the language
The more senses a memory contains, the more powerful it resonates. Making friends, for example, in Japanese associates those people with it. Living in the language creates powerful motivation to continue learning and push through comprehension roadblocks. This goes for multiple situations. If you had a good experience whilst immersed in something, you will be more inclined to continue doing that something. Confused? Don’t be.
3. Look for opportunities to practice everywhere
No matter how small the task is, formulate a phrase in your head and how the conversation might play out, and go for it. If you’re not yet experienced enough to formulate a dialogue, then look up a phrase either on your phone or phrasebook/dictionary and go for it.
The worst that will happen is you might have to transition to English. This will scare the crap out of you at first (I was slightly scared the crap out of), but once you’ve done it you’ll be addicted.
4. Take notes and practice everyday
Don’t have a break day. You can have a break when you get back. Maximize the amount of synapse connections relating to Japanese by making a mistake, learning the correct way, and making it a goal to use it the correct way when the situation arises.
Bottom line, become a baby. Don’t be afraid and have fun!
All of this is summarized concisely (and somewhat comedically) in the YouTube video on Starfish Journals channel.